Tuesday 29 May 2018

In the beginning

Have there ever been greater or more important words written in the English language, than the opening of the Gospel called John in the King James Bible? I don't think so. (Cited in full below)

I feel that 'the whole thing' is there, if only we could take-it-in. It isn't that the words are obscure, not really; because by continuing to read the Gospel the hard words can be understood - but the limitation is rather of what we each, personally, are capable of understanding.

The words give us as much as words can give... I was about to write 'as mere words can give' - but that would be inaccurate as well as ungrateful. These words are, like Jesus himself (The Word), giving us something as great as we our-selves can have; they are a gift limited only by the receiver.

This blog post is something I have tried to write several times - I have tried to re-explain, in modern 'plain' language' what these verses mean - but that is to paraphrase Hamlet into bullet points (except much worse).

What I draw from these words today (coming at them from an earlier reading of the Chapters 15-18 of the same Gospel) is to 'notice' the extreme importance of John (the Baptist) and of the word 'witness' applied to him; to see that this word witness means far more than might be suggested by the modern definition - coming as it does immediately after the cosmic vision of creation and godhood. And of course John recurs throughout this Gospel.

Some have said this is 'because' the author of the Gospel had been John's disciple before he was Jesus's... but that 'because' is failing to read Scripture as Scripture, failing to recognise the inspired nature of this Gospel and the special nature of this Gospel's witness.

We need to understand that John the Baptist's role in the ministry of Jesus was such that it required to be interwoven with this ultimate statement of Jesus's nature and work. That is hard to grasp, but it is what we are being told. 

As we look around the world, here and now, we need simply to recognise the simple reality that Jesus was and is the light shining in the darkness, and that the darkness did not and does not comprehend the light. 

I find that a great consolation and inspiration. That is just how it is: and ought not deter us, ought not change us. It is no cause for despair - then or now. Because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!

John 1: 1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.


Chiu ChunLing said...

Perhaps rather than saying that the words of John give as much as words can give, we should say that they give as much as we are willing to receive from words.

The same is also true of Christ.

Daniel Voce said...

I have always loved the opening of the gospel: even before I was a Christian, in my teens and twenties, I would read it aloud and while I did not understand the words, I enjoyed the strange feeling they produced in me. For the last few months I have been following Rudolf Steiner's suggestion of repeating the first two paragraphs up to 'full of grace and truth'. It forms part of my morning meditation and I also say it to myself at times throughout the day. It is one of Steiner's ideas which I endorse wholeheartedly: the words continue to reveal new meanings and understandings of the passage and the world and Jesus. However, the role of the baptist is still a mystery. I used to find it faintly annoying that the author would bring the reader down to earth with a bump breaking off from the cosmic opening with 'there was a man sent from God'. Now I realise that he is one of THE great writers and the jolt is intentional. I can propose various explanations--John as a pre-Christian Christian, contrast between man and the Light, the role of each Christian in the world--but nothing satisfactory. I feel there is something that we should know about John the Baptist which is lost to history. Maybe it is each person's mission to discover what it is for himself.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - Maybe it is there, in the Fourth Gospel; but because of our preconceptions we aren't seeing it.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Maybe it is earlier.

Maybe we should keep in mind that what we call "The Old Testament" is called such because it testifies of Christ, and the prophets who wrote it understood that this was what they were doing.

That said, the Gospel of John may well be the most concentrated testimony that occurs in the scriptures, if one sticks to complete books. Though it still depends somewhat on the reader.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bradley - I agree. There needs to be something that sets John the Baptist above all the competition (Abraham, Moses, etc).

And we are told exactly what it is - that he baptised Jesus, and the Spirit came and rested and stayed upon him. Implicitly, this was when Jesus became what he finally was, and without this he would not have been.

In the Fourth Gospel, without any 'origins' Nativity story, no genealogy, John's Baptism is apparently the explanation of Jesus being Son of God.

This topic deserves its own blog post...